Eye health may not be at the forefront of our minds until vision impairments and dysfunction develop. With the increasing rates of ocular diseases, including dry eye disease (DED), age-related macular degeneration (AMD), vision loss, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy, eye-supportive strategies should be on everyone’s radar, especially in later adulthood.
According to the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the risk of developing cataracts increases with each decade of life, starting at age 40. In addition, AMD is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in people over age 50 in the industrialized world.
Environmental and Lifestyle Factors that Negatively Impact Eye Health
Overall increase in oxidative damage
Increased exposure to screen time (e.g., smartphones, TV, tablets)
Inflammatory, standard American, or Western-style diet
Excessive intake of alcohol
Direct sunlight to the eyes
Managing Oxidative Stress to Maintain Eye Health
A significant underlying factor in the rising rates of eye disorders is the constant exposure to these various factors that enhance free radical production and inflammation in the retinal tissue. Decreased antioxidant potential and increased oxidative stress are linked to the progression of glaucoma. The numerous components of our eyes “are structurally and functionally linked by continuous epithelia and common nervous, endocrine, vascular, and immune systems,” which are directly connected to the external environment, making the ocular surface extremely vulnerable to damage. Moreover, aging is the most established risk factor for increased reactive oxygen species (ROS), as endogenous antioxidants decrease with age, making it even more critical to support eye health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet.
Nutritional Support for Eye Health
In addition to reducing overall digital screen time, implementing dietary changes by avoiding refined sugars, inflammatory oils, and processed foods, controlling blood sugar levels, and incorporating specific nutritional components may help optimize eye health. Important dietary and supplemental considerations to support ocular health include:
Vitamin A — Crucial for retinal phototransduction; supplementation has been shown to improve tear quality in those with DED; suppresses pro-apoptotic pathways; deficiency can lead to several ophthalmologic disorders, including blindness
Quercetin — Antioxidant flavanol that may protect against UV-induced oxidative damage; has been shown to have immunoregulatory properties that broadly support corneal health
Omega-3 fatty acids— Robust scientific research has shown omega-3 supplementation (eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) from fish oil may help lower the risk for glaucoma and ocular hypertension, and may help ameliorate signs and symptoms of DED
Lutein and Zeaxanthin — Potent antioxidant carotenoids found in the highest concentrations in the macula of the human eye can absorb blue light, which protects the retina from photochemical damage and neutralizes ROS; these antioxidant carotenoids correlate with increased macular pigment optical density
Astaxanthin — Powerful antioxidant carotenoid shown to have protective effects against corneal cell apoptosis and photokeratitis; powerful antioxidant in reducing oxidative stress
Vitamin C — Potent antioxidant for the ocular surface, as evidence shows tear film contains high levels of this essential water-soluble vitamin; vitamin C plays a crucial role in corneal wound healing
N-acetyl cysteine — Supports the body’s ability to quench free radicals and reduce oxidative stress systemically, as a precursor to glutathione, our body’s master antioxidant
Bilberry — Anthocyanoside-rich cousin of blueberries and cranberries; bilberry supports blood vessel integrity, may help improve night vision, may protect against UVA-induced retinal damage; long-term supplementation with bilberry has been shown to provide significant improvements in visual acuity in patients with normal-tension glaucoma
In the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2, supplementation with vitamins C and E, and β-carotene, zinc, lutein, and zeaxanthin reduced the risk of advanced AMD by more than 25%. Results from a clinical trial showed antioxidant supplementation of anthocyanosides, astaxanthin, and vitamins A, C, and E, along with other botanicals rich in phytonutrients reduced epithelial damage, enhanced lacrimal gland function, and stabilized tear film in patients with DED. Selenium, curcumin, vitamin B12, and other flavonoids are shown to have beneficial effects on ocular surface diseases.
By Caitlin Higgins, MS, CNS, LDN